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Types of Skin Cancer

Understanding Skin Cancer



Skin cancer is the unusual growth of skin cells, typically caused by too much sun exposure. However, it is essential to note that some common forms of cancer can occur even in areas of your skin that are not directly exposed to sunlight.


Different Types of Skin Cancer


A quick search of online resources will tell you that there are three significant types of cancer relating to the skin — basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. However, besides these three types, there are other less common types of skin cancer — cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), and Merkel carcinoma, sebaceous carcinoma.


For health-related concerns like cancer, knowing the types and symptoms is an essential part of being aware. Each type comes with signs, and depending on how early it is detected, the risk factors and the chances of successful treatment may change.


Here are some signs of the most common types of skin cancer that you may want to watch out for:


Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

As the most common type of skin cancer, BCC is most common among people with fair skin, though it can also affect people who have skin of color. BCCs usually develop after frequent sun-exposure and are easily identifiable by its physical appearance. It is characterized by a pinkish or flesh-colored, pearl-like bump, and is typically found on the head. It can also form in the neck and on the arms.  


This type of skin cancer can’t be left untreated for too long because it grows and may affect the nerves and bones, causing permanent damage and disfigurement.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Next to BCC, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. Like the BCC, it is likely to develop among people with light skin, though those with dark skin color are not necessarily immune. Signified by firm red bumps, scaly patches, or sores that heal and re-opens, SCC forms can be found on dry, rough patches or spots on the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back.


Like the BCC, this type of skin cancer develops into the skin, and if left untreated, it can spread and damage and disfigure it.



Tagged as “most serious skin cancer,” melanoma is perhaps the deadliest form of skin cancer. It frequently develops in moles or brownish spots on the skin and looks like an irregularly shaped lesion with portions in red, pink, white, or blue-black. For men, this type of cancer most often appears on the face or the trunk. For women, this is typically found on the lower legs. For those with darker skin color, melanoma tends to form on the palms of the hand or soles of the feet, though it is not impossible to find lesions under the fingernails or toenails.

Risk Factors and Prevention of Skin Cancer

Much like every other disease, knowing risk factors and prevention of skin cancer might just save your life. Every health professional will tell you that early diagnosis and patient cooperation make a difference in both the treatment process and outcome of any disease. Yes, even for skin cancer.


Here are things that need your attention for skin cancer:

Awareness of the Advanced Warning Signs


If you grew up in the '80s, you are probably aware of a TV cartoon called G. I. Joe and its famous epithet: "Now you know. And knowing is half the battle."


For those with skin cancer, early diagnosis can mean a world of difference. If you do not have skin cancer, however, it is the best time to get in the habit of inspecting your body from head to toe for moles or lesions that grow or change, or bumps and scaly patches that itch, bleed, or doesn't heal at least once a month.


Before you check, here's an easy to remember tip on what to look for: the ABCDE of warning signs for skin cancer.

A – Asymmetry


Any mole or lesion that changed or grew different from one side to the other.


B – Border Irregularity

All the outside edges of moles are similar, so if you see a scalloped or indefinite border, you would want to get checked for melanoma.


C – Color

Moles should have one consistent color. If your mole looks like a different color in part or from the others, then it's time for an appointment with your doctor. By unusual color, we mean either tan, white, brown, black, red, or blue. Yes, that's right. Some moles turn blue.


D – Diameter

Any mole with a diameter that measures beyond 6 mm should make you worry. That is not to say melanoma can't look smaller.


E – Evolving

Evolution in moles or lesions is unusual. Be it size, color, or shape; you should check anything that changes and starts looking different from your other moles. It is particularly dangerous if it exhibits any of the changes described above.


Making a habit out of these body checks can be a part of your skincare or health check. After all, it is always better to know.

Beware of Risk Factors, Biopsy

Anyone can have skin cancer, but some people are more prone than the others. There are some pre-existing conditions—risk factors—that make you more vulnerable to skin cancer, so if you have the following, then you might want to be extra careful about being out in the sun.

  • Unprotected exposure to sun light

  • Fair or light skin color

  • Skin that burns, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun

  • A large number of moles

  • A family history of skin cancer

  • Have lived for 50 years or more

  • Regular indoor tanning sessions

  • Weakened or suppressed immune system

  • Inherited syndromes

  • Previous exposure to radiation

  • Certain medications like vandetanib (Caprelsa), vemurafenib (Zelboraf), voriconazole (Vfend), dabrafenib (Tafinlar), encorafenib (Braftovi), and vemurafenib

  • Exposure to arsenic


The chance of every single one with these risk factors contracting cancer is meager, but having the above conditions increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, which is the deadliest of them all.

Care Tips, Prevention and Cure

Certain pre-existing conditions have higher risks of skin cancer. However, it does not mean that those who do not have them are immune to skin cancer. There are specific care tips or preventive tips that you can use to lower your risk of acquiring skin cancer:


  • Avoid direct sun exposure, if possible. If not, then wear protective clothing and make sure you apply broad-spectrum sunscreen all the time.

  • Avoid recreational sunbathing and indoor tanning salons and the use of tanning beds and sun lamps.

  • Examine the skin regularly for abnormal moles and lesions or even rough and scaly patches.

  • Take supplements, particularly vitamin B3 and D.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. According to reports, over a million new cases are reported worldwide each year. Since its oldest recorded case 125 million years ago, cancer has remained a common challenge, served as the motivating factor for many researchers, and eventually, they developed new diagnostic machines and treatments. Even now, new possibilities arise and show promise in improving this process.

Diagnosing Skin Cancer

The diagnosis flow for skin cancer is perhaps the most uncomplicated process about it. With only three steps, the current diagnosis flow for skin cancer remains time-consuming and expensive. The process has not changed much, and it goes like this:


The diagnostic process for skin cancer still starts with an examination of the skin by a dermatologist, then it is followed by checking on the person’s medical history. Dermoscopy, a non-invasive method of using a lens, and a light system quickly follows. During this process, the doctor judges whether the bump, mole, or dark lesion is possibly cancerous. Once he decides that it has the potential to develop into skin cancer, further testing may soon follow. This test requires an excision of a skin sample from the suspected lesion and its surrounding area in a process called a biopsy. This skin is then sent for pathohistological examination to determine if it is skin cancer and, if so, identify the type of skin cancer you have.


There are four different types of skin biopsies:

  • Punch Biopsy: This process requires the doctor to use a sharp, hollow tool and remove a circle of tissue from the suspected area.

  • Incisional Biopsy: Using a scalpel, the doctor removes part of the growth.

  • Excisional Biopsy: Through this process, your doctor uses a scalpel to remove the entire growth and some other tissue in the surrounding area.

  • Shave Biopsy: With a thin blade, the doctor “shaves off” or cauterizes the abnormal growth.


Note that a dermatologist who suspect melanoma will never “shave off” your skin growth. Instead of doing that, an excisional biopsy will be done, or, if it is too large to be taken out entirely, then a tissue sample will be taken.


Once the biopsy is out of the way, and skin cancer is confirmed, the next step in skin cancer diagnosis is finding out the extent of the cancer.

Skin Cancer Staging


If the biopsy confirms that you have an invasive melanoma, or a metastatic SCC or an extensive spread BCC, then you may be referred to an oncologist. Whether it is a suspected melanoma or nonmelanoma skin cancer, it is the oncologist’s job to do an imaging test, check on the nearby lymph nodes, and test it for signs of the disease in a process known as sentinel lymph node biopsy.


Immediately after determining the extent of the skin cancer, an oncologist conduct skin cancer “staging” and identify how much area is affected and if it has spread. Depending on the stage of the cancer signified by Roman numerals I through IV, the doctor plan the treatment, identify clinical trials, and quantify the chances of survival.


Staging is done based on the following:

  • The size of the growth or lesion

  • How deeply it has grown under the skin

  • How widespread it is, based on symptoms from nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body


Once the stage of the skin cancer is identified, then the next part that follows is the treatment.


Major Types of Treatment for Skin Cancer


Surgical modalities remain a mainstay of skin cancer treatment, but new researches and technology continue emerging. As of this time, there exist different treatment options. It is up to the oncologist to choose the best treatment, depending on the stage and overall health conditions.


The current options for skin cancer treatment are:

  • Surgery

  • Radiation therapy

  • Chemotherapy

  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

  • Biologic therapy

  • Targeted therapy

  • Chemical peel (otherwise known as chemabrasion and chemexfoliation)

  • Other drug therapy (using Retinoids, Diclofenac, or ingenol)


For melanoma, the above treatment are options except for photodynamic therapy.




Prevention and early detection of skin cancer is always the better option. According to a study, over 90% of skin cancers can be prevented if only people take the time to be cautious and get a monthly body check. Skin cancer is the easiest cancer to find, yet a confirmed diagnosis takes time, skills, and expert judgment, along with various diagnostic tests like dermoscopy and biopsy.


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